By Lanford Beard
Updated January 29, 2013 at 12:00 PM EST
Credit: Patrick McElhenney/FOX

WARNING: Because of the sheer wondrousness of tonight’s ep, we’re posting early. If you haven’t seen it yet, read no further. There will be SPOILERS!

I take it you saw the promos, Newbies? But still, wasn’t the real thing so much better? Be honest: Are you still squeeing yourself? Without a doubt, this episode was everything — a DVR keeper — so brace yourselves for a long recap. Then, after you’ve read and rewatched (I know I will), come back to after the West Coast airing to read Jessica Shaw’s chat with show creator Liz Meriwether and Jake Johnson about the decision to finally let this huge moment happen, the day Johnson and Zooey Deschanel shot the scene, and what he hopes will come of this game-changing moment. (UPDATE: It’s here!)

And it will be a game-changer. There has been no shortage of chatter dedicated to the appropriate circumstances of a Jess and Nick kiss. How could the writers possibly present it in an appropriately fresh, non-trite way? One that wouldn’t set the relationship (if there should be one) up for failure? Well, kids, I’m happy to report that they nailed it. It was necessary story-wise but just out-of-nowhere enough that the characters aren’t painted into a corner and forced to resolve things in the immediate future; it was just emotionally revelatory enough that Jess will be thinking of that moment for a long time to come — and so will we. (Also? Jake Johnson? Stop it with your undercover hotness already. Seriously. How can a man so skilled at turtle face be this sexy?) Add to the mix the return of True American(!), a typically twisted and totally shipper-stoking Schmidt-Cece moment, and the rare chance for Winston to get a little action, and this was the ultimate episode. Onward!

To be fair, Nick didn’t start the episode in top form. More like in female form — he was sporting a woman’s trench coat that had accidentally been delivered to the loft. And yet he felt unstoppable — nay, “hot to trot!” while swathed in its “clean lines and pockets that don’t quit.” He even performed little Michael Jackson circa Jackson 5-style spins because he looked that damn good. Winston and Jess were not impressed, but their mockery was cut short when Schmidt emerged from his bedroom in a sheet diaper to announce he hadn’t been able to “get anything going” with himself for more than an hour (the door had been open this whole time, mind you). He vowed to go out and have sex, and he invited “London Fog” Nick and “Last Lovin’ on Labor Day” Winston to prowl with him. Band of brothers! (Goofily dancing brothers in Nick and Schmidt’s case.)

“World’s Best Wingwoman, reporting for duty!” Jess chirped, only to be told she was not invited because she’s Nick’s cooler. (Cooler, for the uninitiated, is a nice way of saying c—blocker.) Jess denied Nick’s accusation, and he tried play it down. “It’s not you… it’s the way that you behave and the things that you say and the look on your face and,” he paused, unable to deny the truth. “It is you! It’s you. You’re the cooler!” So Jess resigned herself to staying in for the night to clean her closet and try out her new ice cream maker. (That actually sounds like an amazing night. Related note: I’m old.)

NEXT PAGE: Sad girls do it well

A few hours later, the Band of Brothers were sitting glumly at Nick’s bar. Schmidt groused, “I can’t believe you got us kicked out of the disc-uh-tech, Nick.” Winston blamed it on the trench coat, saying, “It freaks girls out!” Soon enough, they spotted a hot chick (Brooklyn Decker) and started pumping themselves up to pounce. On the way over, Nick and Schmidt stopped to squabble over who had first dibs, which gave Winston a chance to slip in. But, given his dry spell, he struggled to stick the opener. So Schmidt came in and told Winston, “Tap out!” Winston sat down, dejected, next to a cute girl named Daisy (Brenda Song), who immediately told him showed him her engagement ring to prove she was taken.

Back at the loft, a pig-tailed Jess was surrounded by a pile of polka-dotted garments and turquoise tulle. She looked over at a hoodie-wearing melon with a scruffy face drawn on it and asked, “What do you think, Nick?” Cut to a shot of Jess riffing on Risky Business, which basically consisted of her running around like Shoshanna on crack, yelling “No bottoms! No bottoms!” Cut to: “Bottoms on top!” Cut to: Jess in a cardboard box with the arms cut out, monotone-ing, “Robot. Can’t. Find. Clothes. To. Fit. It.” And finally cut to: Jess slow-mo running through a toilet paper finish line — “I do it for Keeeeenyaaaaaa! [Falls to the ground] Silver? Damn you, Zimbabwe!” Her adorkable merriment screeched to a standstill when she thought she heard scratching at the door. She proceeded to call everyone she knew to dictate her last will and testament via voicemail in a panicked voice.

Back at the bar, Winston was newly confident, having been freed from the pressure of seduction by Daisy. As such, she became his impromptu gal pal, sounding board, and coach in the ways of being a playa. Meanwhile, Schmidt and Nick worked their magic on Holly the hottie, by which I mean were slap-fighting and insulting each other’s pathetic lives. Weirdly, this was exactly what Holly wanted. Turns out, she got her rocks off on others’ misery — a schadenflirt, if you will. So Nick’s stolen lady coat, his broken heart, and his general loser vibe were quite literally foreplay for her. “I love sad guys, and you seem sadder than most,” she told him. “When you go home at night, do you look in the mirror and just think, ‘I am the worst?'” Nick: “I actually… yes, I do!” Now this was a match made in heaven.

Except! Schmidt took Jess’s call on Nick’s phone and forced it into his hands. He grumpily walked away to listen to Jess speculate that the loft noises “might be gang-related. I’ve always been worried about my blue curtains. Crips!” Nick was understandably miffed that Jess had managed to be his cooler even over the phone, but when she whimpered, “I need you,” he relented and brought the whole crew back home. After nearly assaulting them with a baseball bat, Jess flung her arms around Nick (and Holly) and begged, “Never leave me alone again.”

NEXT PAGE: True American or Dare

As Nick walked Jess around the apartment to assuage her fears, she admitted she had been his cooler. But! She had a plan. A plan that involved yelling out dead presidents’ names, climbing on furniture, and consuming tremendous amounts of alcohol. Yes, my friends, it was time for the triumphant return of True American! Only this time, there was a twist designed explicitly to get Nick laid: Stripping! Or, as Jess put it, “Clinton rules: Pick your intern.” It was truly an inspired addition to the already all-over-the-place game. (Bonus pop culture points for tonight’s game: Abu Nazir even got a name check!)

While Nick and Schmidt plied Holly with a series of increasingly traumatic come-ons (see Dotables), Daisy and Winston drank themselves silly under a table. She tried to coach him on how to hit on Holly, but the best he could come up with was, “You’re a swell kinda gal. … Hey girl, what yo’ name is? What that thang do?” (Schmidt would be so proud of those last two!)

At that point, Holly was still mostly clothed (beginner’s luck?), but Schmidt was down to his skivvies (and happily so — all the better to show off his six-pack), Jess was rocking a bra and some crinolines, and Nick was mostly naked except for his lady coat. Schmidt took exception to Nick’s dodging of the rules, but Jess (who had been appointed president, I guess) proposed solving the squabble by sending two players “behind the Iron Curtain” (a.k.a. door to one of the rooms) for “clear and present tongue.” The plan was meant to get Nick and Holly canoodling, but of course it backfired when Holly got confused by the selection process (in no small part because of Schmidt), and Jess and Nick ended up as the pair exiled to makeout-land.

With Jess and Nick behind closed doors until they presented photographic proof, Schmidt made his move. He pulled out the big guns, telling Holly his Cece sob story. (The crowning quote: “Sometimes I hear her name when the wind blows. “Cece!” You know I left something behind in the desert that day — my faith in true love and my future biracial child.”) But he had laid his heartbreak on a little too thick, and she said, “You kinda lost me there — it’s more depressing than sad.” So Schmidt backpedaled furiously, claiming he was over Cece, but she was still in love with him. He pleaded, “Can you help me move on, Holly? Can you heal my pain?” Ding ding! Magic words!

At this very moment, Cece barged in to check on Jess after receiving no less than a dozen frantic texts about “The Calabasas Scratcher.” She even brought along some poor sap, with whom she was having a first date, to prove this wasn’t a premeditated flake-out. Alas, the half-naked hook-up scene at the loft, not to mention by Schmidt’s insistence that Cece claim she had feelings for him (so he could seal the deal with Holly), made it difficult for Cece’s date to feel wanted. And, it should be noted, Cece did say she loved Schmidt. That she loves him. (Was it me, or was there a spark of connection between them at this moment?) So Cece, and her date, went home alone — and now Schmidt owes her big-time. I, for one, hope he pays her back in sexytimes involving many flavors of chut-i-ney.

While all this was happening, Daisy helped Winston get his groove back. After which, and much to his surprise, she revealed she wasn’t really engaged. She just wore the ring so sleazeballs wouldn’t hit on her. Though this news tripped him up at first, he regained his cool and went in for the kiss she clearly wanted. It was short and sweet. When they leaned out, she said flatly, “C-minus, you kiss like a damn bitch.” Of course she was just messing with him. The girl’s got spunk. Here’s hoping she sticks around.

NEXT PAGE: “Suck it up and French a little”

Back behind door No. 1, Jess and Nick were predictably awkward. “Let’s just suck it up and French a little,” she urged pragmatically. Though he didn’t care for that particular verbiage, Nick was willing. He asked, “Are you a tonguer?” Oh dear… Suffice it to say, there was no kiss at that time — though there were several failed lean-in attempts involving an aborted countdown, a creepy face, and Nick’s teeth. Lots of desperate screaming and banging on the door later, they had tired themselves out.

They sat down, and Jess once again admitted she was Nick’s cooler — 30 percent of the time. The other 70 percent — all Nick. “Some basic grooming,” she encouraged, “and you’d be smokin’ hot.” This unexpected compliment provided a much-needed mood lightener, as well as a natural cue for Nick to put his hand casually on Jess’s knee. It seemed he didn’t really realize he’d done it — until he did. Then Jess did. And they had one of those end-of-the-party moments when you’re just tipsy and relaxed enough to realize possibilities existed where you never saw them before. They looked into each other’s eyes and were nearly about to lean in… when Sam knocked on the door. Moment. Gone.

Or was it? Before Sam let Jess and Nick out, he asked what they were doing behind the door. Cut to a minute later when he was cheering them on. This is the same guy who rebuffed the advances of a stripper. Yet he was totally okay with his girlfriend making out with her roommate. Clearly he has never considered Nick a threat. So, with six people cheering them on, Jess and Nick were once again pressured to put out. She said they should just do it already, but Nick blurted out, “Not like this!” That was the moment when the toothpaste was out of the tube. She asked what he meant, and he found himself stumbling around this maybe-confession. All the while, chants of “Kiss! Kiss! Kiss! Kiss!” rang out in the background. That’s what you call a Greek Chorus, my friends. Those peer-pressuring partygoers, drunk on Jack and power — they were us.

Nick lapsed into a panic attack over almost admitting his feelings for Jess — feelings he may not have even realized he had. So he did the logical thing: He escaped out the window. He immediately realized what a horrible mistake he’d made while he shimmied over to the living room window. The others heard his terrified screams and saw their lady trench-wearing roommate on the edge of death. And that’s when Schmidt fainted.

A bit later, with Nick safely inside, Winston and Schmidt vowed to talk about this massive overreaction… in the morning. Tonight they had ladies to “do stuff with” (though Holly did tell Nick, “If you ever feel the urge to jump again, call me!”). The guys headed to their rooms, followed by a highly amused Sam (even less threatened than before), who went to bed with Jess.

In the middle of the night, Jess thought she heard scratching again and called Nick. He opened the front door and was attacked by a huge St. Bernard-type dog. Its owner came running over to apologize — and recognized the coat she’d ordered online. Nick was sleeping in it. After demanding the coat off Nick’s back, she walked off, muttering angrily.

And then there were two. Jess and Nick laughed about the the return of Old Nick and the passing-on of Trench Coat Nick. “I liked him,” said Nick. “He had guts.” The statement, tinged with the slightest bit of regret, hung in the air for a moment before Jess gave Nick a friendly tap on the arm and turned to go back to bed. She got maybe a step before Nick grabbed her by the elbow and pulled her into him. They kissed, mutually and with a surprising amount of passion. It was HOT, is what I’m saying. They pulled away slightly, but Nick went back for more. “I meant something like that,” he said softly and walked off. Jess touched her face, tried to process it all. Her mouth was still partially open in shock when Sam emerged from her room and asked if he could move the DIY scarecrow to the living room. Jess croaked out an okay and walked, dazed, back into her bedroom as Sam dropped Melonhead Nick on the floor. Pan down to a busted cantaloupe in a hoodie. Perhaps Old Nick was gone after all, but a bit of Trench Coat Nick was here to stay.

NEXT PAGE: “It’s like a taffy pull on a hot summer’s day!”

Notable Dotables…

Schmidt [walking out of his bedroom in a sheet]: Nothin’? I mean, nothin’? Damn it! I’ve been trying to get something going with myself for a full hour. It’s like a taffy pull on a hot summer’s day!

Jess: Ewwwww! You have the door open, Schmidt!

Schmidt: I’m over myself. I just don’t do it for me anymore. I even bought myself a sexy pair of underpants to spice things up. Nothin’. I just laid there. You know what? That’s it! Tonight, I start having sex again! Now [points at Winston and Nick] are you two going to join me?

Winston [spit take]: Is that the way you wanted to say that?

Nick: Jess, this loft has old pipes. I’ve told you that a million times, but you never listen during pipe talk.

Jess: Pipe talk’s boring!

Nick and Schmidt’s Sad Pick-Up Lines…

Nick: This foot stool really reminds me of my ex.

Schmidt: Holly, look at these abs. Hard to believe that I used to be such a great big fat person. [Pulls her hand to his side] You know where the fat used to be? It’s been replaced with phantom fat. I still feel it jiggle.

Nick: Holly, he’s really happy! He’s got a 401k and a six pack!

Schmidt: I’m at least 10 percent sadder than Nick right now.

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New Girl

Zooey Deschanel plays lovable Jess, who is plodding through life with a good group of friends.

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